Hunter Confusion – Can Orphaned Mtn Lion Kittens Be Legally Shot or State Rescues Them

One mountain lion kitten has been shot and killed during the first two weeks of the 2011 cougar-hunting season, while three other kittens have been rescued for shipment to zoos after their mother was killed by another hunter.

It’s a seemingly contradictory irony that shows problems in the mountain lion season, Custer veterinarian Sharon Seneczko said Monday. Seneczko, founder and president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, praised the state Game, Fish & Parks Department for rescuing three kittens estimated at 3 to 4 months old.

But the fact that a lion kitten that was slightly older and bigger was legally killed by a hunter highlights problems with the lion season, she said.

“There’s a lot of inexperience out there and a lot of excitement when they see a lion,” she said. “This is unfortunate, but it’s an inevitable situation. It’s something we should certainly try to address through (hunter) education.”

The lion season opened Jan. 1, and 22 lions had been killed as of Monday afternoon. One of those lions was a 33-pound female kitten estimated at 5 to 6 months old. Although small and young, the lion was legal, state Game, Fish & Parks Department regional supervisor Mike Kintigh of Rapid City said Monday.

“It looks just like an adult, only considerably smaller,” Kintigh said. “When it’s standing in the woods all by itself with nothing to compare it to, it makes it very difficult for a hunter to judge its size – especially when most hunters have very little experience with lions.”

State law prohibits hunters from shooting spotted lions, which typically means kittens that are 6 months old or less. The law also prohibits the shooting of lions that are in the company of other lions.

The restrictions are intended to reduce the killing of kittens or adult female lions with kittens. Kintigh said the 33-pound kitten did not have spots and there was no evidence that other lions were visible when it was shot. So there was no violation, he said.

The hunter who shot the lion and his hunting partner said they misjudged the size of the lion until they approached it after it was shot, Kintigh said.

“Both of them expressed some disappointment when they got up to it and realized how small it was,” he said.

The hunters called GF&P to say they would be bringing in the lion to be checked, as required by law. They were delayed because they had a vehicle accident but were at the GF&P office in Rapid City in about five hours, Kintigh said.

Kittens have been an emotional issue for some critics of the lion season since it was established by the state GF&P Commission in 2005. Former Gov. Mike Rounds intervened at one point to require GF&P to rescue kittens orphaned when their mothers were shot.

That situation last week left three kittens orphaned. GF&P officers found the kittens, estimated at 3 to 4 months old and weighing about 20 pounds each, and sent them to South Dakota State University in Brookings. Wildlife professionals there are caring for the kittens until they can be placed in zoos.

“They’re doing real well. It looks like we’ll be sending them to two separate zoos,” said John Kanta, GF&P regional game manager in Rapid City. “I’m hoping that by the end of the week they’ll be in their new homes, in the zoos.”

Seneczko praised GF&P for rescuing the kittens.

“I’m just so very, very glad that the department has done the responsible thing, because those kittens would not have survived,” she said. “I commend them from the bottom of my heart.”

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

bigcatrescue.org

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